Careers rarely develop the way we plan them. Our career path often takes many twists and turns, with particular events, choices and people influencing our direction.

We asked Nan Hu from An Garda Sí­ochána to give some advice for people considering this job:

Nan Hu


An Garda Sí­ochána

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Nan Hu
I would advise those considering the job to be patient and to be good at what you are doing and when the opportunity comes to join An Garda Siochana just take it!.

If you are part of a minority group in Ireland and considering joining An Garda Síochána then my advice to you is to go for it because as a foreign national working in the organisation I promise there is no discrimination in An Garda Síochána.

Enterprising people like situations that involve using resources for personal or corporate economic gain. Such people may have an opportunistic frame of mind, and like commerce, trade and making deals. Some are drawn to sales and marketing occupations. Many will eventually end up owning their own business, or managing a section in larger organisations. They tend to be very goal-oriented, and work best when focused on a target. Some have an entrepreneurial inclination.
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Community & Voluntary

It may surprise you to learn that careers in the community and voluntary sector are not all about working for free! As well as the many volunteers engaged, community and voluntary organisations also employ approximately 100,000 people - 63,000 full and part-time workers and more than 30,000 people in over 1,400 social enterprises.

The sector comes under the remit of the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, who provide operational funding to the many organisations within it. Occupations found in the sector range from humanitarian aid workers to youth workers, charity officer to community development worker.

Video: Meet Garda Reserves Rodney Cadden, Margaret Daly and David McLoughlin who are all proud volunteers assisting the organisation over the past number of years to protect and support their local communities. 

Opportunities with Irish in this Sector
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The Community and Voluntary Sector broadly includes most organisations that are not about business and ranging in size from very small, locally-based community groups, to large, national and international bodies – from local GAA clubs and community education centres, right across the spectrum to lobbying and social justice groups and large national non-government organisations (NGOs) such as the National Women’s Council of Ireland (NWCI). It includes:

  • Community Organisations
  • Local Development and Partnership Companies
  • Youth Groups
  • Arts and culture organisations
  • Not-for-profit organisations
  • Charities
  • Lobbying, advocacy and social justice groups
  • Civil Society and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs)
  • LGBT Groups
  • Social Enterprises
  • Sports Clubs
  • Volunteer Services – e.g. The Life Boats (RNLI); Auxiliary Fire Service; Gárda Reserve; Tidy Towns.

Much of the work of Community and Local Development groups happens in communities dealing with some of Ireland’s most serious social and economic problems. The work is focussed on empowering marginalised people of all ages, and communities, towards finding and applying their own solutions to their problems

People who choose to work in the community sector are usually motivated by positive change within the community. Work in this area requires commitment, dedication and practical skills. People of all levels of qualification and experience work within the sector. 

Sector specific occupations include: Youth Worker; Regional Youth Officer; Community Development Worker; Community Education Officer; Community Education Tutor; Education Programme Co-ordinator; Community Outreach Worker; Advice Worker; Drugs Rehabilitation Worker; Community Integration Officer; Equality Officer. 

The sector is by no means clear cut and as a result, it can be a challenge to identify a single, clear career progression route, given the huge variety of different groups and their different roles and purposes. They can broadly be differentiated as follows:

Community organisations - these organisations work at local level to provide opportunities for people to build their local communities. They provide essential services across the broad spectrum of civil society - for children, early school leavers, older people, people with disabilities or ill-health, vulnerable people, drug users, homeless people, women, immigrants, travellers, and ethnic minority groups. As unemployment rises and the public services are struggling, community organisations try to fill the gaps. Most groups receive government funding to support their work. They can be funded from a variety of sources including the VEC, SOLAS, Local Development Companies, Local Drugs Task Force, private trusts, or learner fees, among others. 

Local Development Organisations and Partnership Companies - Local development organisations were originally created in the 1990s, to deliver on European Structural Fund programmes.  Local Development Organisations continue to be used by the state to implement social inclusion and rural development programmes and have evolved to become ‘Partnership Companies’. 

Partnership Companies work to develop the social and economic infrastructure in local areas, particularly in disadvantaged areas. They work at local level with a focus on social inclusion, to address the needs of the unemployed, create local employment and pathways to employment, and to develop coordinated approaches to getting people back to work.

Community Education Centres - Community Education is delivered all over Ireland by a range of providers including community groups, independently managed not for profit groups and statutory organisations such as the ETBs. It is sometimes called ‘second chance education’ because many of the people who attend community educations courses do so because they missed out on school, or left early.

AONTAS is the Community Education Network in Ireland and has 140 community education provider members. In the statutory sector community education is run by facilitators based in local ETBs.

Youth Groups - Youth work is based on young people’s voluntary participation and commitment. It is often defined as ‘non-formal education’ and takes place in local clubs for young people, usually aged between 12 -18 years. Youth clubs have a number of adult leaders and programmes include recreational and educational activities. These are designed to give young people the experience of planning and organising their own activities.

In Ireland, youth clubs are usually run by Foróige, a national voluntary organisation that receives funding from the Department of Children and Youth Affairs.  Foróige works with bodies such as Local Drugs Task Forces, Education and Training Boards (ETBs), the Garda Siochana and the Health Service Executive (HSE) to further youth development. Foróige have created a short video see below.

Arts and Cultural Organisations - Arts organisations are integral to the community and voluntary sector and the national cultural organisations are the leading edge of the sub-sector.  The arts are supported within communities through a variety of Government programmes that fund the use of the arts as a tool of community development or personal development and enrichment. A number of voluntary bodies support the arts in communities. Some voluntary organisations are working in the areas of theatre and visual arts.

The arts and culture sector itself is made up of many organisations as well as individual artists and cultural practitioners. Most cultural organisations can be classified as small to medium enterprises and have less than ten full time employees.

Job roles in this area include: Arts Officer; Arts Administrator; Community Arts Worker; Arts Education Officer; Arts Development Officer; [etc]

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There are just under 8,000 registered charities in Ireland. A registered charity is a community and voluntary sector organisation or NGO who has been granted a charitable status (CHY Number) by the Revenue Commissioners. The definition  of charity used by the Revenue Commissioners is:

their purposes are to relieve poverty, advance education or religion, and/or promote other purposes of benefit to the community, and if on wind-up their assets are transferred to some other body with similar charitable purposes.”

Not all organisations in this sector have charitable status. (e.g Declan Ryan, of the One Foundation, recently estimated that there were 24,000 charities in Ireland). Of the 7,874 organisations with a CHY number, 4,011 are incorporated entities and have been registered as a company with the CRO. The remaining 3,863 entities are unincorporated associations of individuals. These have been recognised as charitable in nature but have not been registered as a company with the CRO. The 4,153 entities without a CHY number are all incorporated and have been registered with the CRO giving a total of 8,164 incorporated entities in the INKex Not-for-Profit database.

In July 2013, the Irish government has given the go-ahead for the establishment of a Charities Regulatory Authority in 2014. Under the 2009 Charities Act, a body was to have been established to regulate charities and their fundraising activities earlier, but this was delayed due to the financial crisis in Ireland. It is hoped that the new body will increase public trust and confidence in charitable organisations.

Charities provide various support services both at home and internationally in areas including: education, research, health, social services, the environment, advocacy and law, sport and culture. Many of these organisations are principally funded by the HSE. Most (64%) employ less than 50 people. Only 33% employ more than 50 people. 32% employ less than 10 people. 

Job roles in this area include: Finance Manager/Officer; Campaign Manager/Assistant; Fundraising officer; Social Researcher; [etc]

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Lobbying, Social Justice and Non-Government Organisations (NGOs)

Lobbying* means trying to influence an issue, or the outcome of an official decision, for example, persuading public officials to pass or defeat a piece of legislation. Advocacy is about having your voice heard. Advocacy NGOs such as the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, the Immigrant Council of Ireland or Inclusion Ireland, work to support people in having their voices heard at policy level. Advocacy involves planned, organised and sustained actions to help people say what they want, secure their rights, represent their interests and obtain services they need. It can be anything from backroom lobbying to public demonstrations, in the interest of bringing about social and economic change.

38% of non-profit organisations in Ireland engage in social-justice advocacy, which seeks to make real the principles of justice, equality, human rights, human dignity and social inclusion.  Organisations like Amnesty International, UNICEF, the Society of St Vincent dePaul and the Irish Cancer Society aim to get policy-makers to focus on the causes of social problems. (Source: Anna Visser – Director, The Advocacy Initiative in The Village)

*In Ireland, organisations whose legal status is that of a Registered charity are precluded from lobbying, or from promoting political aims or political parties.

The World Bank classifies NGOs as either operational NGOs, which are primarily concerned with development projects, or advocacy NGOs, which are primarily concerned with promoting a cause. NGOs operate at local, national or international level. Some NGOs are organised around specific issues, such as poverty, human rights, the environment or health issues.

Development NGOs in Ireland include organisations such as Concern, Goal, or Trocaire. International NGOs include Amnesty International and Oxfam, which campaign worldwide for human rights.

Jobs in this area are usually tied in with other job responsibilities i.e communications, research, fundraising. Those interested in working in this area can find work in any number of fields, from environmental work to legal issues, health issues, civil rights, animal rights, food supply – any issue where an inequity contributes to disadvantage someone or something.

Occupations in the area of advocacy include: Support Worker; Aid Worker; Humanitarian Worker; Project Worker; Communications Officer; Advocate; Campaign co-ordinator; Information Officer; Media Manager; Policy Officer; Fundraising Co-ordinator; and Events organiser among others.

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Social Enterprise header image

Social enterprises are business models set up to tackle social, economic or environmental issues. Some social enterprises engage in trading or commercial activities to pursue their objectives and any surplus earned is re-invested in the social objective. The segment of the community sector employs more than 25,000 people in over 1,400 social enterprises in Ireland.

Social enterprises are rooted in the early co-operative movement. Today, the segment engages in a broad range of economic and social activities. The nature of social enterprises is such that goods and services tend to be provided locally and so that related jobs are created in local communities. Social enterprises provide jobs across a range of skill-sets, some with the specific objective of providing employment to those most marginalised and most distant from the labour market, both geographically and socially. They provide services and employment in many local and rural communities. 

As part of the Action Plan for Jobs, the Irish Government has committed to supporting the development of a vibrant social enterprise sector. It has huge potential for employment growth. There are four main types of social enterprises:

  • Those with commercial opportunities that are established to create a social return
  • Those creating employment opportunities for marginalised groups
  • Economic and community development organisations
  • Those that deliver essential services e.g The Rural Transport Initiative

Forfás reports  potential to double employment in the Social Enterprise sector over the period to 2020. Their 2013 Report contains a series of recommendations to support the development of the Social Enterprise sector under the Action Plan for Jobs. The Programme for Government has a commitment to promote the development of a vibrant and effective social enterprise sector.

A number of Government Departments currently engage with the Social Enterprise sector. Minister of State, Seán Sherlock, is charged with developing the sector on a cross-Departmental basis, with support to be provided by the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government.

Sectoral opportunities for social enterprise development include: community retail and care services; tourism and heritage products; leisure and sports services, and energy production.

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Volunteering header image

Over 63,000 full-time and part-time staff are employed in the community sector, but it might be a surprise to learn that volunteers provide the equivalent work of a further 31,000 people!  The number of volunteers registered with Volunteer Ireland has doubled to 14,800 - a remarkable transformation in difficult times.

Why is volunteering important for STEM? 

VideoSmart Futures volunteer programme
Having access to people who work in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM), to hear first -hand about what such careers can offer to students, can have a really positive impact on a young person's life and career path. Smart Futures is a collaborative government-industry-education programme

Central to volunteering is the motivation to help with a problem or situation in society that involves creating positive change in the lives of people or communities. Volunteering is about giving, contributing, and helping other individuals and the community at large. It is working with others to make a meaningful contribution to a better community.

Every year more than 2 million people get involved in social, cultural and humanitarian work through Voluntary Organisations (Source: Unpaid volunteers work to make a difference in every parish in the country, from serving on school boards to coaching football teams – e.g. the Tidy Towns awards, which has become one of the most important environmental initiatives in the country, is driven by an army of volunteers in 821 cities, towns and villages across Ireland.

In Ireland, organisations like Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann and the GAA are built on the efforts of volunteers, or the many people who give of their time to the community. People volunteer for an endless variety of reasons, but the three main rewards people get from volunteering are thought to be:

  • The satisfaction of seeing the results
  • The feeling of doing good work and
  • Meeting new people

Many community projects and organisations have scarce resources and are dependent on the good will and time given by people. Some people choose to volunteer to gain experience; others want to acquire new skills; for many, it’s simply about meeting people and expanding their network of contacts. 

Volunteering is about giving back to the community, helping a friend or promoting a worthwhile cause. Most people do it because it makes them feel good - it gives them what has been described as a "private smile".

The value of the experience of volunteering and what it brings to your CV is a great reason to volunteer. As a way getting a start on a particular career path, volunteering is a great for getting experience. It often becomes a foot in the door into the sector and it will most certainly help those interested to gain specific knowledge and understanding of a given organisation. People often gain paid employment as a result of volunteering.

Another big advantage of volunteering is skill set – volunteering strengthens your skill set and equips you for the world of work – people skills; communication skills; team building skills; practical skills - all can be developed by volunteering.

You can view the website to see a list of volunteer centres (click here) and projects recruiting volunteers around Ireland: Alternatively you can contact the organisation you are interested and enquire directly about volunteer opportunities

National Services that train volunteer members include –

Experience and training with any of these groups will prove invaluable on your CV going forward.


The world of volunteering is a lot more diverse and vibrant than people realise. There are amazing volunteer opportunities and hundreds of openings in many countries around the world for a whole range of skills and roles. Work is usually with communities in the developing world, and can be in areas such as agriculture, education, water supply, sanitation, health and much more.

VSO (Voluntary Service Overseas) is an international development organisation that works through volunteers living and working as equals alongside local partners. VSO’s purpose is to bring people together to share knowledge, experience and skill to fight poverty. VSO has programmes in a range of over 30 countries, including places like Ethiopia, Tanzania, India, Uganda, Papua New Guinea, Mozambique and Sierra Leone. VSO’s work spans right across Africa, Asia and the Pacific. If you’ve ever wanted to really see the world, then volunteering your experience, knowledge and skills can take you there – and with a real purpose.

Irish Aid is the Irish Government's programme of assistance that supports projects in developing countries. A wide range of information on volunteering abroad is available through Other organisations working in this area can also be found through Dóchas, the association of Irish non-governmental Development organisations.

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